Friday, July 4, 2014

Reflection - ISTE 2014

Three years ago, we sent a team of three teachers to the International Society for Technology in Education conference in San Diego, and they came back so excited about all they had learned.  They also shared that they heard the message over and over that change cannot occur without the support and leadership of the principal.  Now, they agreed that I am not a barrier at our school, but they felt it was important for me to attend a future ISTE conference just because - because there were so many opportunities to learn something new; because it was a chance to network with like-minded individuals; because it was so inspiring to hear and see how others are using technology in the classroom; because it motivated these teachers to know that our school was on the right path with our initiatives; and because they wanted me to be as excited as they were about all the possibilities.

So this year, I decided to request funding to send a team of three - myself, our librarian/media specialist, and an instructional coach - to ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Truthfully, like any large conference in a crowded venue, there will be positives and a few negatives as well.  Let me share some of my take-aways from ISTE 2014.

The Good

  • Keynote speaker Kevin Carroll,  was absolutely inspiring!  He asked us to be present with him and he would hopefully give us something in return.  Did he?  Absolutely!  I am sure I wasn't the only one in the audience who wished I could have videotaped his presentation, and unfortunately, I didn't even take notes or tweet out his quotes; I was that engrossed in what he was sharing. His message?  He learned his life lessons on the playground with a red rubber ball, and he reminded us of the importance of play in life.  As an early childhood education major, I had always believed that "play is a child's work" and that children need time to explore and discover through play.  Kevin Carroll's presentation validated what I have always believed (but had not put into action at our school), and I began to think of how we might have our teachers "play" so they can, in turn, understand how important that is for our students while still ensuring quality teaching and learning.
  • When I saw that George Couros was going to be presenting, I knew I wanted to attend his session.  I answered George's call last summer and was part of his #SAVMP (School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program), a novel idea that an experienced principal could virtually mentor a beginning school leader.  I wanted to see and hear George in person, so I actually sat on the floor in the room for the previous session so I would be assured of a seat for his presentation.  And I wasn't disappointed.  I marvel at anyone who can talk for that length of time and keep the audience engaged - laughing and crying and thinking - while sharing an important message about "myths of technology." Three thoughts which had the biggest impact for me as an administrator - "We need innovative educators before we can have innovative students;"and "The biggest shift for educators is not skill set; it's mindset;" and "It's not enough to engage students; we need to empower them."
  • I had heard so much about Doug Kiang and his presentations on gaming in education.  I just happened to be passing by a room and saw that he was going to be presenting in an hour.  At that moment, I made the decision to forego the session I had intended to attend.  In fact, I sat in on the previous session, just so I could hear him.  Yes, I went all the way to Atlanta to listen to someone from Hawaii present :-)  As a competitive person who loves playing games (but who is definitely NOT a gamer), I was interested in hearing Doug share about how we can use gaming concepts in the classroom.  This is an area that I definitely want to learn more about.
  • The poster sessions provided great resources, but what I most enjoyed was listening to students discussing their projects as well as the tech tools they used to create and share.  What was really impressive were those schools in Mexico who sent students to share and how well they were able to create projects and communicate in English when that is clearly not their first language.  As I listened to them and their pride in sharing their projects, I realized that this is something we can do at our schools.  Many schools have curriculum fairs where parents and the community can view what students are learning; this is an opportunity for students to share how they are using technology to collaborate, communicate, think critically, create, and share.  We can replicate something similar at our school or in our complex or even in the state.
  • The sandboxes and playgrounds were an opportunity to learn something new from an "expert." This is really a way for teachers to participate in hands-on professional development and to share and learn from others how they use technology to enhance teaching and learning.  The only barrier I can see to implementation would be the unwillingness of teachers to give up their own time to learn through this kind of hands-on learning.  So we need to provide the opportunities, and we need to make sure that teachers take away something meaningful that they can use right away.  Successful personalized PD for teachers is something I'd like to implement this coming school year.
  • Ignite sessions - 5 minutes and 20 slides to speak on any topic you are passionate about.  How fun!  It got me thinking . . . can our students do something like this?  I think it's possible - perhaps 3 minutes and 10-12 slides would be more appropriate for our elementary school students.  We want students to be passionate about their own learning; Ignite would be a great way to have them share their passion!
The Not-So-Good
  • With the number of sessions and presenters, something that sounds good was not always applicable to me.  Taking a suggestion from others who had attended ISTE previously, I did walk out on a few presentations that sounded good but started off poorly.  I was there to learn and to make the most of this opportunity, and I really did not want to "waste" valuable time. There was too much to do and too many options to sit in on a presentation that did not fit my needs.
  • Perhaps I was not looking in the right place, but I saw few sessions for administrators.  If we are, indeed, the "missing link" in how technology is integrated in our schools, then we should have dynamic principals sharing their stories.  I would have loved to hear how principals are successfully using technology to address the Common Core State Standards - not with on-line programs but with project-based or challenge-based learning.  I could have learned from principals who have leveraged funding, partnered with their community, or sought grants to ensure that their students had access to technology.  I want to hear from principals at schools where all teachers have the opportunity to learn with and from other teachers in face-to-face sessions, virtually, or through social media.  This, I believe, was my main purpose for attending ISTE 2014, and I did not have that opportunity to learn from other exemplary principals.
So was it worth it to attend ISTE 2014?  Yes, but the real value will come when we apply what we learned to make a difference at our school.  Technology is changing education, and new apps and tools are being created every day.  We cannot possibly keep up with all the changes in technology, but we can take what we learn and empower our teachers and our students to improve teaching and learning for all.  That is one of my goals for this coming school year.


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